From a modest start as a retail facility for fresh fish and handicrafts, the Misco Market in Majuro continues to expand, adding a wholesale operation, food processing, local produce, and soon a sizable walk-in freezer and cold storage facility to store fish for both local and export markets.
The Misco Market is a branch of the Marshall Islands Service Corporation, which operates payroll and loan services, and the Ralik Ratak Fishing Company. They join Bank of Marshall Islands under the umbrella of Marshall Islands Holdings Inc.
Bank of Marshall Islands (BOMI) President and CEO Patrick Chen and Vice President Hermai Makroro see expanded engagement with fishers and producers of agriculture products on the remote outer islands, particularly since the arrival earlier this year of a longline fishing vessel that the Ralik Ratak Fishing Company is operating in joint venture with a Taiwan company. The fishing boat has made several fishing trips since arrival, catching tuna that is being sold mainly on the local market.
“We’d like to do more than just fishing,” said Chen in a July 12 interview. “We can help develop (income opportunities) for the outer islands.” Chen noted that the government is now heavily subsidizing copra at 50 cents a pound. “But there are other valuable products on the outer islands: marine life, local produce and handicrafts.”
Key to engagement with the outer islands is ocean transportation and, for marine products, cold storage facilities. “Reef fish is valuable, but most outer islands have no freezers to hold fish, so they have no capacity to store them and turn them into income,” Chen said.
The longline vessel has freezer capacity, and an under-construction stand-alone building in the expanding Misco Market complex outfitted with a walk-in freezer will offer substantial freezer capacity once completed in the next couple of months.
The longer-range plan is to use the fishing vessel to pick up reef fish from different islands that can be marketed at Ebeye Island, the second major urban center in the country located in Kwajalein Atoll, where demand for fish and local produce is high, said Chen. In May, Misco Market chartered the Okeanos Marshall Islands sailing canoe to deliver a large shipment of fresh fish and local produce to Ebeye. The products sold quickly.
Makroro said Misco Market is collaborating with the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, the government fisheries department, particularly in looking at opportunities for expanding export of local marine products. Makroro and two MIMRA staff will be attending a Seafood Expo in Tokyo in late August as part of looking at new opportunities.
Meantime, the Misco Market has developed to meet local demand. From its initial retail offerings limited to freshly caught fish and handicrafts, it has added a variety of local farm produce. The market set up tables and chairs outside the facility for customers to eat meals. It has kitchen staff who prepare meals of reef fish and local delicacies to order. Staff now bar-b-que fresh reef fish daily, and on Fridays, a pig can often be seen turning on a rotisserie outside the market as it cooks.
Misco Market also now operates a small processing operation for local produce and fish products that supplies local restaurants and supermarkets. They also pack 50-pound boxes of frozen reef fish for travelers going to the United States.
Once the new walk-in freezer facility opens, Chen sees significant expansion of fish processing to ramp up levels for potential off-island export. “Without freezer capacity, we can’t do seafood marketing,” Chen said.
With reef fish caught at Kwajalein Island a serious health concern, the Misco Market on Ebeye is loaded with reef fish for sale that are from other atolls.
Last month, Misco Market in Majuro shipped nearly 10,000 pounds of frozen reef fish to Ebeye on Matson.
Read more about this in the July 26, 2019 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.